Playing Possum in Your Backyard – Lake County Record-Bee

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The severe drought has brought many strange visitors to the backyards of many Lake County residents. These critters are in search of water and food, which are abundant in the neighborhoods.

A common but rarely seen wild animal in Lake County is the opossum. Recently, several people have reported seeing opossums in their backyard.

The opossum is an interesting creature and is not native to California. It was introduced from the east coast to the San Jose area in 1910. It is about the size of a large house cat and has grayish fur. The animal is believed to have arrived in Lake County in large numbers in the 1950s when hundreds of mobile homes were introduced to the county. The possums had taken up residence within the walls of the mobile homes while they were stored outside the county.

Possums are about 2 to 3 feet long, including the tail, and weigh up to 15 pounds, although most weigh between 4 and 7 pounds. Males are generally larger than females. Their feet look like small hands with five fingers spread wide apart. All toes have a claw except for the opposable thumb on the back foot. Opossums are well suited for climbing. The opposable toe on the hind foot helps them hold small branches or similar structures.

In urban areas, possums make dens under houses or sheds. There have even been instances of them entering homes through pet doors. They are classified as omnivores, which means they will eat just about anything, including insects, berries, plants, and all kinds of meats. They also eat abandoned food for cats and dogs. They are not normally aggressive unless cornered. They can hiss, growl and bare their teeth when threatened.

There are generally two mating seasons for possums in California – January through February and June through July. The resulting two litters produce an average of about seven pups each. After a short gestation period of 13 days, the tiny, hairless young are born. Just like other marsupials, blind and helpless young end up in the mother’s pouch where they suckle. They leave the pouch at about 11 weeks. Sometimes the young ride on their mother’s back. They are classified as nocturnal, which means they are most active after dark.

When attacked, they often “play opossum”, which means they go limp. In fact, they even went into a trance. Often the predator ignores the soft opossum. They also have a unique trait in that many are immune to a rattlesnake’s poison.

Opossums are classified as non-game animals by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which means they can be trapped and killed at any time of the year. The most common method of trapping a troublesome opossum is to use the cage traps that are often used to trap unwanted feral cats. It is actually illegal to trap a possum and move it to another area.

Possum is known to kill small cats and even small dogs. They have a mean temper.

The best method to prevent possums from getting under your house is to close all holes that lead under the house or deck. Also, don’t leave cat or dog food outside. When your pet has finished feeding, quickly remove the food. This will not only keep possums away, but also raccoons and other wildlife. The good news is that opossums rarely carry rabies. However, you should always exercise caution when handling a wild animal.

In fact, opossums are good guys because they eat insects such as spiders, wood ticks, and other bugs that may reside in your yard. They’ve been on earth longer than humans and will likely be here long after we’re gone.

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